For theater chains, the COVID pandemic was a nightmare worse than anything they could have imagined. Not only did they have to close their doors indefinitely, but major movies began simultaneously releasing in theaters and online. This was something they’ve campaigned against for years, with AMC publically announcing they were boycotting Universal movies after Trolls World Tour was the first pandemic movie to premiere online.
Since then they seem to have grudgingly recognized that VOD releases are going to happen, but have been pushing for them to end as soon as possible. Their current target is Disney’s Black Widow, which saw a massive second-weekend collapse at the box office despite positive reviews and good word of mouth.
Now NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners) has released a statement that argues Disney royally screwed up by releasing Black Widow on Disney Plus. They point out that the movie instantly became the most pirated movie in the world on release, that multiple people can watch a single streaming version without paying, claim subscribers are password sharing, and that any money made from VOD is being siphoned from the total box office.
They conclude that:
Simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.
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But I suspect that the genie is now out of the bottle and these kinds of simultaneous release will become normalized soon. Speaking from experience I’ve enjoyed the convenience of being able to check out Black Widow from my lounge and it’s only with Godzilla vs Kong that I truly felt like I was missing out by not seeing it on the big screen.
That said, the theatrical experience is a precious thing that should be preserved, though it seems inevitable that going forward, watching a film in a cinema is likely to be considered a boutique luxury event rather than the norm.
Plus, at least as far as Black Widow goes, I’m sure Disney is happy that they don’t need to share VOD profits with theaters and it helps boost their subscriber count.